Page 14

Repurposing Gender


By Jessica Pettitt

uch like Facebook describes some relationship statuses, gender is complicated. Gender is not complex, but always not easy to grasp. When people say their relationship is complicated, they may mean that they have multiple partners or maybe they haven’t picked words that represent their involvement with one another. The same is true when members of the fraternal movement explain their ongoing involvement with their affiliated organization long after college graduation. Living your values, even through retirement, is a simple concept that is dependent on others who “don’t get it” somehow making sense of it all.

transitioned, or changed, their gender identity from the one they were labeled with at birth, before, during, or after becoming affiliated with a fraternity or sorority. As a result, a Beginning the Conversation Guide was created and has been downloaded more than 5,700 times from There were even over 400 participants in a free webinar on Trans Inclusion and the Fraternal Movement that I facilitated in the Fall 2010 semester hosted at, a website for professional development in student affairs. A complicated conversation is beginning in chapters, on campuses, and in the fraternal movement.

I have been engaging in conversations about gender in single sex organizations for about five years now. Researchers and educators have looked at Olympic, NCAA, and Title IX regulations as well as university non-discrimination policies for sexual orientation and/or gender expression inclusion. I looked to the fraternal movement as the frontier in which to do work in gender inclusion. I wanted to begin to ask the unconsidered questions: Who can be a brother? Who can be a sister? What about my life experience with gender supports my affiliation? In 2007, Sarah Fielding and I started this area of research by gathering resources and conducting interviews with over 60 fraternity and sorority members that had

I am frequently asked to list best practices and specific examples of exactly how to address gender expression as a fluid, changing variable within the context of a single sex organization. Again, the answer is both simple and complicated. There is not a standard of best practices to refer to, nor is there a typical process of action steps to address the question of inclusion of members or potential members who identify differently than how they were labeled at birth. This is why our definitions of single sex organizations, the connections between brotherhood or sisterhood, and the social construction of gender need to be repurposed. Here is how I define sexual identity, sex, and gender:


Sexual Identity/ Orientation




How a person defines an emotional, sexual, and/or romantic relationship with another

Label used on birth certificates and decided based on external genitalia determined from ultrasound images and/or upon birth

The performance and perception of one’s performance along a socially constructed continuum ranging from feminine to masculine with androgyny in the middle

In other words…

How I define who I am attracted to or want to be in a relationship with

What I assume is in your pants… It isn’t socially acceptable to ask a person’s internal or external genitalia, chromosomal, or hormonal status – so we guess or assume generally based on how we perceive a person

How I interpret the pants themselves. How I choose to dress, act, etc., and how I read another’s dress and actions along a spectrum of gender expressions

Common elements

Generally assumed straight/ heterosexual unless otherwise told. If assumed gay/lesbian it is because of how we perceive their gender. (e.g., feminine man = gay man, masculine woman = lesbian woman)

– Hormones – Chromosomes – Genitals

– Roles – Identity – Expression

Secondary Sex Characteristics – Hair, voice, size, etc.

(perception from others or of others)

From Where I Sit is a section in Perspectives featuring a personal perspective on the interfraternal community. Do you 14

Perspectives / Spring 2011

have an opinion to share on fraternity/sorority life? Tell us how things look from where you sit by emailing your thoughts to the editor at, and you could see your ideas in a future issue of Perspectives.

Profile for Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors

Perspectives Spring 2011  

AFA Perspectives Spring 2011

Perspectives Spring 2011  

AFA Perspectives Spring 2011

Profile for afa1976